Many centuries ago, the Greek mathematician Euclid spoke the following wise words: “Most ideas about education are not new, but not everyone knows the old ideas.” This statement certainly applied to the ISM University of Management and Economics in Lithuania. In the late nineties, BI, a renowned Norwegian business school, established ISM as a reputable, Western-oriented institute of higher education in close cooperation with the then emerging business community. As a private business university, ISM soon became the engine of entrepreneurship in Lithuania. Today, surrounded by the walls of an ancient monastery, students are encouraged to develop a commercial mindset.
Accezz as catalyst for innovation in higher education
During his time as CEO of TSM Business School in Enschede, the Netherlands, Ivo Matser had already become familiar with the Accezz method. Not long after his appointment as CEO and Dean of ISM University of Management and Economics in Lithuania, he realised that the level of ineffectiveness cried out for an Accezz improvement programme. “Universities are generally fragmented organisations which results in a serious managerial challenge,” says Matser. He continues, “Many universities do not make any profit; even renowned institutes like Harvard. When it comes to universities, you are dealing with intelligent people who often think they know better. It’s an insular culture that usually does not have a positive effect on the quality of education. We needed to make work processes more effective to create room for improvements and innovation. Accezz acted as a catalyst for the type of innovation required.”
Slowness and bureaucracy in higher education
Business schools across the world face similar challenges, but new CEO Ivo Matser also had to deal with a very conservative culture: “It almost appears as if the goal of every employee in higher education is to make as few decisions as possible and to never speak their mind. In terms of decision-making, we were regularly left to the mercy of the gods. Considering that in the past, having an opinion was not always appreciated here, you at least understand where it originates from.” Matser then explains, “Such a mindset doesn’t just change overnight, because a wall comes tumbling down. If you want to make a change, you have to work strategically and ensure the message becomes embedded within the organisation. This entails sharing ideas with various people and allowing them to get used to new concepts, while encouraging ongoing discussions behind the scenes.”
Back to the core business
ISM is moving from a teaching to a learning environment which means student needs will have a greater priority. Matser says, “This requires vision and innovation. Implementing effective work processes are key if the changes need to be secured and further developed over time. Since Accezz arrived on the scene, employees became aware that processes should transcend departments. They are also increasingly aware of the impact of their specific roles on the functioning of the organisation as a whole. When you place decision-making responsibilities where they belong, employees can focus better on work processes. It was a huge shift in mindset.” He adds, “At first, a number of people wanted to hold on to their informal power and the status it brought. But later on, after gradually relinquishing this power, they discovered peace of mind and enjoyed a higher level of work satisfaction. Senior managers initially had no confidence in our new structure. When the programme had ended, however, these managers approached Accezz and said they were actually glad to finally have the opportunity to really focus on their core business: for example the developing of curricula content, which of course has a direct impact on the quality of education. Certain tasks are now the responsibility of specific departments that can address them most effectively.” Matser is more than happy with the outcome and stresses; “We have really come to appreciate just how important a renewed and much improved organisational structure has been for the development of ISM.
Best proof of the success of this project of change is probably the best smooth start of our new academic year (2016 – 2017) ever. With both satisfaction among students as well as our faculty! And that is a real achievement because a new academic year is like starting a new organisation for the next year!”
Talk the talk, walk the walk
“When you teach students to take responsibility and guide them towards positive self-awareness, you must lead by example. It’s not enough to ‘talk the talk’, you also have to ‘walk the walk’. I therefore tell my people from the start, “Replace the word student with the word employee … “. Matser concludes, “The term ‘high-quality education’ is not just a unique selling point. It is also embedded in our organisation; and we have taken great strides towards this with Accezz. I would have never opted for an improvement programme with Accezz so soon after my appointment if I had not already known the company. From my experience and based on first-hand evidence, I can safely say that Accezz definitely gets teams and managers moving forward together. If you witness the changes the company has brought to a conservative, reluctant and bureaucratic culture, you can be nothing but impressed!”